“Humans are not meant to be perfect,” said violinist Kristin Lee. That, she went on to offer, is why the unresolved major seventh chord at the end of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite is so affecting — it captures, after all that’s come before, “the beauty in the imperfections.”
Lee spoke via Zoom in the contemporary portion of a Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center streamed archival performance of the Copland from 2019, in which Lee was first violin. Paired with a Haydn string quartet and a Francesco Geminiani cello and continuo sonata, the program was available through Sonoma’s Green Music Center’s Green Room series. Flawed as they may be, as these sterling performances confirm, gifted and committed musicians at their best can make bliss seem like something very close to perfection.
CMS co-artistic directors (and musical married couple) David Finckel and Wu Han host the 90-minute “summer evening” bill from their own backyard, part of the Front Row National series, curated from CMS's vast archive of HD performances. Chatting before and between the pieces, they lead a 20-minute screen conversation among some of the performers when the music is through.
Like many virtual events of its kind, this one conveys a bittersweet dissonance of then and now — the live concerts before audiences who both cherished and took for granted the experience and the Zoomed-in disjointed intensity of everyone trying to make the best of a dreadful situation. The past, these days, can be a welcome destination.
First up is a 2014 account of Geminiani’s 1746 C-major sonata. It’s a bejeweled Baroque showcase for the artistry of cellist Timothy Eddy. Cellist Mihai Marica and harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss partner on the accompaniment with appropriate but never self-effacing modesty.
After some graceful call-and-response exchanges by the two string players in the opening Andante, Eddy swaggers into the following Allegro with burly phrasing, decisive accents, and sweeping double stops. A spirit of almost dangerous ferocity takes hold.
Then, in Geminiani’s reworking of some of the same material, the Affetuoso movement gives Eddy a chance to shine in an altogether different character. Here he is somber shading toward tragic, a mood heightened by an inward-turning, elegant reserve. It’s the moving heartbeat of this lovely piece. A vivacious Allegro brings it to an assertive close.
David Phillips, who trades off violin parts with his brother Todd Phillips in the Orion String Quartet, offers this brisk, apt assessment of Haydn’s flair for the unexpected: “He’s actually kind of a comedian.”
The composer’s String Quartet, Op. 50, No. 5 (“The Dream”), which the Orion performed in 2017, gets off to an amusing start with the violin brothers trading, mimicking, elaborating, diverging, and reconvening in pert, taut phrases. The opening movement nudges into a new key for a rich development capped off by a chromatic climb. Tender and harmonically adventurous, the eponymous “Dream” Adagio is a serenely floating island, beguiling its liquid modulations. A lively Menuetto and whirring Vivace are full of momentum. Only the closing bars arrive with formulaic predictability. Even a master comedian eventually runs out of freshness and surprises.
Copland’s Spring, in the original 1944 instrumentations for 13 players, has a translucent clarity and shimmer the version for full orchestra obscures somewhat. In this wondrous performance from last October, every sweet exhalation and spry dance tune comes through with a sense of heady, optimistic joy. Here, in 20 minutes or so, is the America that seems to have gone missing in our own dank, dark times. The rhythms here are sinewy and spry. The woodwinds exude an innocence untainted by sentimentality. The bassoon and double bass grumble cheerfully to each other. Even the silences, which open like grassy pastures before that open-ended major seventh, are naturally deployed.
At several points, a distant long shot of the Alice Tully Hall stage at Lincoln Center, takes in the listeners seated side by side in the packed house. That’s us, a viewer thinks, the way we used to be. And will be again, when those simple, lavish gifts of music bring us all together again.